Students throughout Desert Sands Unified School District started the day off on Monday, Sept. 24 by saying “Hello.” Schools from one end of the district to the other joined in the “Start With Hello” initiative designed to reduce social isolation and build positive connections.

Start with Hello Initiative Fills DSUSD Schools

The Week’s Schedule at La Quinta Middle School

Developed by Sandy Hook Promise, a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Conn., “Start With Hello” focuses on stopping violence before it happens. Led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six educators, Sandy Hook Promise is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible non-policy and policy solutions that protect children and prevent gun violence.

Among their programs is the “Start With Hello” initiative based on the fact that social isolation is the feeling of being left out, lonely, and treated like you are invisible. At every school and in every community there are children who feel like they have no friends and quietly suffer through each day. Young people who are isolated can become a victim of bullying, violence and/or depression. As a result, many further pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development and/or choose to hurt themselves or others. “Start With Hello” teaches children and teens how to be more socially inclusive and connected to each other. The program encourages students, educators, parents, and other community leaders who interact with children to take steps in the classroom, the lunchroom, and/or on the bus to be inclusive and connected.

Start with Hello Initiative Fills DSUSD Schools

Human Bingo at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School

By building a culture of inclusiveness, practicing being an “upstander,” and providing tools on how to break the ice, break down barriers, and get to know one another (interpersonal interaction), entire communities benefit as generations begin to incorporate this community connectedness.

In addition, “Start With Hello,” Sandy Hook Promise organization assists schools in setting up SAVE Promise Clubs and a Know The Signs violence prevention program.

Start with Hello Initiative Fills DSUSD Schools

Photo with a new friend at La Quinta Middle School

This year, Desert Sands Unified School District joined the campaign with an almost 100 percent participation by our 34 schools. From “Human Bingo” at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School to “Friendly Note Day” at Ronald Reagan Elementary School to “Play Music Mingle” at Desert Ridge Academy to No One Eats Alone Day at Indio High School, students from Indio to Indian Wells were quick to catch on to the idea and the importance of the week. Their enthusiasm was captivating and their commitment to begin new friendships by “starting with hello” is one that will make them community leaders.

So, just start with hello.

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